Category Archives: Biology

Working to Build Better Antipsychotic Drug by Treating Schizophrenia’s Cause

The classic symptoms of schizophrenia—paranoia, hallucinations, the inability to function socially—can be managed with antipsychotic drugs. But exactly how these drugs work has long been a mystery.

Now, researchers at Pitt have discovered that antipsychotic drugs work akin to a Rube Goldberg machine—that is, they suppress something that in turn suppresses the bad effects of schizophrenia, but not the exact cause itself. In a paper published in the Aug. 24 Journal of Neuroscience, they say that pinpointing what’s actually causing the problem could lead to better avenues of schizophrenia treatment that more directly and efficiently target the disease.

“In the past five years or so, we’ve really started to understand what may be going wrong with the schizophrenic brain,” says Anthony Grace, Distinguished Professor of Neuroscience and professor of psychology in Pitt’s School of Arts and Sciences and professor of psychiatry in the Pitt School of Medicine, who is senior author of the paper.

Schizophrenia is made up of three different types of symptoms. Positive symptoms, which are added onto a “normal” personality, include hallucinations and delusions, such as hearing voices, thinking people are after you, or thinking you’re being targeted by aliens. Those are the classic symptoms of schizophrenia and the ones antipsychotic medications work on best. Grace says these are the symptoms most likely related to a neurotransmitter called dopamine.

The other two categories of symptoms are negative (what’s missing from the normal personality—the ability to interact socially or hold down a job; some emotional flattening) and cognitive (the ability to think linearly or concentrate on one thing at a time). These two really aren’t addressed well by antipsychotic drugs. “Blocking the dopamine system seems to fix classic hallucinations and delusions a whole lot better than it fixes the other problems,” says Grace.

Grace has been studying the role dopamine plays in the schizophrenic brain since 1978. It’s long been known that after several weeks of treatment with antipsychotic drugs, dopamine-producing neurons are inactivated. “It would suggest to us that in schizophrenia there is not too much dopamine, but rather the dopamine system is too responsive,” says Grace.

Therefore, by inactivating the neurons, this overresponsivity should be able to be treated. “If there were just too much dopamine in the brain, one would expect the biggest treatment effect would be at the beginning and then it would diminish,” Grace says.

More at Pitt Chronicle


Pitt Team Regrows Blood Vessels With a Potent Molecule

Ever since the Nobel Prize for nerve growth factor was awarded more than 30 years ago, researchers have been searching for ways to use growth factor clinically.

University of Pittsburgh Professor Yadong Wang has developed a minimally invasive method of delivering growth factor to regrow blood vessels. His research, which could be used to treat heart disease, the most common cause of death in the Western world, was published in the Aug. 1 issue of the journalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. …

When the researchers injected their growth factor compound under the skin of mice, they saw something amazing: New blood vessels grew, and large ones, not just tiny capillaries. “We had structures that resembled arterioles—small arteries that lead to a network of capillaries,” says Wang.

Moreover, the structures stuck around. At least a month later, after only one injection of the growth factor complex, the new blood vessels were still there.

More at Pitt Chronicle


Belo Monte dam marks a troubling new era in Brazil’s attitude to its rainforest (The Ecologist)

Karen Hoffmann

15th August, 2011

Belo Monte is just one of a dozen giant dam projects Brazil plans to build in the Amazon region in the coming decades and opens up the world’s largest tropical rainforest to oil and mining exploration

The Kayapó chief stands, and a hush comes over the circle. All the other caciques wait expectantly for Raoni Metuktire to speak.

Instead, he starts to dance, whooping and shouting, a dance for the enemy. Afterwards, he speaks. ‘I will go there, to Belo Monte, and warn my family,’ he says, the disc in his lower lip punctuating his words. ‘What happened with Tucuruí will not happen again.’

His nephew Megaron Txukurramãe translating, Raoni exhorts the chiefs gathered at the 50th anniversary of Brazil’s Xingu Indigenous Park: ‘I want you to feel strong, you are great! I want to see you fighting!’

Raoni and Megaron are intimately familiar with the Belo Monte dam. They’ve been fighting it for decades. Belo Monte’s first incarnation was called Kararaô, a name that was quickly changed after indigenous people pointed out that the word, in Tupi, means ‘war.’

In 1989, a major protest was held in the town of Altamira. Even Sting showed up at the event. In a memorable speech, a Kayapó woman said: ‘Electricity won’t give us food. We need the rivers to flow freely. Don’t talk to us about relieving our ‘poverty’ – we are the richest people in Brazil. We are Indians.’ (See‘Adios Amazonia?’ in the Ecologist, Vol 19 No 2, March/April 1989)

That protest put the brakes on Belo Monte for two decades. But now, the project is on the fast track once again. …

(More at The Ecologist)


Study: Alcohol, Tobacco Worse Than Drugs

Dangerous drugs, artfully arranged 

Sorry ravers, this study is sure to have absolutely zero impact on U.S. drug policy. God forbid we base our policies on FACTS, right? 

AP story:

New “landmark” research finds that alcohol and tobacco are more dangerous than some illegal drugs like marijuana or Ecstasy and should be classified as such in legal systems, according to a new British study. … 

Heroin and cocaine were ranked most dangerous, followed by barbiturates and street methadone. Alcohol was the fifth-most harmful drug and tobacco the ninth most harmful. Cannabis came in 11th, and near the bottom of the list was Ecstasy.


Some days, her only goal was to take a shower.

I have an article on postpartum depression in the Winter 2007 issue of UPMC Health Journal. It’s not available online, but you can read a scanned version here.


As the door closed behind Janice’s mother, who was heading home after helping to take care of Janice’s first baby, Ethan, Janice had only one thought: What do I do now? The walls of the Staten Island apartment where she lived with her husband, Tom, seemed to close in. Although Tom did as much as he could, his job as a national park ranger meant he was often gone. Ethan had colic, and cried for what seemed like an eternity.

Janice felt all alone. She didn’t know her neighbors very well. Tom was the extroverted one; she thought of herself as a shrinking violet. When she married him, she didn’t know she’d be moving across the country and back again for his job–three times in less than a decade. … The small-town Ohio girl was intimated by New York, which she found too urban, too expensive, too gray. …